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'It's really just a mission'

by JOSA SNOW
Staff Reporter | March 31, 2023 1:00 AM

The ink was still drying on his doctorate when Joshua Chism accepted a professorship at Whitworth University, a job as the director of traditional worship at Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church across the street, and a part-time job as the artistic director for Chorale Coeur d’Alene.

Chism uprooted his family in August to move across the country to join his first professoriate. When he got to the Pacific Northwest, a new friend said he’d be a great fit for an open position in Chorale Coeur d’Alene, so he applied, was hired in November and started in January.

“I’m certainly drinking through a firehose,” Chism said. “There’s a lot of new. Everything is new, everyone is new. The only thing that’s not new is what I’m doing. I’m just doing it in a new context.”

But when Chism met the board members of Chorale Coeur d’Alene, he knew the organization spoke to his heart.

Chism’s first concert as director will be 7 p.m. April 21 and 2 p.m. April 22 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Coeur d’Alene.

“These musical pieces really take you on a journey,” said chorale member Shoshana Rubli. “Some of them are very joyful, some are very sad and some are very powerful. And we go through that journey with the audience.”

Chism painstakingly crafted the concert’s theme, “Critical Mass,” for several specific reasons. From the perspective of physics he sees the chorale as reaching a point in entropy, where everything comes together at the right time to create a fateful tipping point, or explosive burst of creative energy. With the retirement of former Artistic Director Stan McDaniel and Chism's onboarding, the fresh graduate feels the chorale is poised at that point.

“McDaniel had a really strong emphasis on tradition and history,” Rubli said. “Chism is much younger and his perspective has involved a lot more young people. He’s focusing on reaching younger people and on using social media to reach the community.”

Rubli also volunteers as the chorale’s social media coordinator, and works with Chism to build the group’s online presence and reach.

Chism builds on McDaniel’s emphasis on history, but incorporates the opportunity for what change and new ideas can bring to the chorale that may have been overlooked before.

“There’s this really useful energy now, and it’s humorous, but we’re still doing very serious music,” Rubli said. “Nothing has changed with the tradition, but something has changed about our willingness to reach the high school students and younger people.”

Critical Mass also speaks to the elements of Mass, evoking the spiritual imperative of the music and the pieces included in the program.

“With every song you bond with the people who are singing and you bond with the audience,” Rubli said. “It transcends and it unifies people.”

Chorale musical masses are grand in scale and also meet a practical demand that the spring concerts are just large, and masses tend to fit the size of the concert.

Critical Mass also reflects a dichotomy Chism tries to emphasize in the balance between value, and process: encompassing contradicting principles in one concept.

Chism feels that if he truly focuses on the process and on the community aspect in the chorale, then the product and value will come naturally.

Chism is also blessed with a historically stable foundation to build his vision for the chorale.

“Music as a form of religious expression is part of their origin story,” Chism said.

It’s a decades-old and financially stable organization. But the chorale is also poised for change, which hiring the energetic and enthusiastic 35-year-old music professor illustrates.

“It’s been remarkable,” Rubli said about the transition from former director McDaniel to Chism. “The way it was handled by the two directors was so respectful. It was done in a way where we really valued where we had been before. As a choir member it really helped to walk into a completely different season.”

Chism is here to provide “a shot in the arm of energy” to the decades old chorale, while respecting its roots and history.

“I run quick, fast-paced, energetic rehearsals, that are quick paced and full of movement,” Chism said. “And with a good sense of humor, and a good sense of work hard, play hard. So it’s been a really tremendous process … and it’s fun!”

And that energy translates to the performers, who feel it too.

“It’s very exciting,” Rubli said. “We’re thrilled, we’re having such a good time in the choir.”

Chism has several plans for his vision of the 2023/24 season he’s incredibly excited about, but he won’t disclose them until the concert in April.

What he can disclose is that the chorale is expanding its young artist program, which means the chorale will offer more scholarship opportunities to more high school students, and allow them to perform professionally as part of the chorale.

The role of artistic director really fits with Chism’s teaching ethos, his philosophical ethos, and his personal ethos, and he immediately felt that he was a good fit for the role.

“I really don’t think of what I do as work,” Chism said. “It’s really just a mission. It’s really just what I’m privileged to do.”

Chism doesn’t waste any time or energy with his life. He graduated with his doctorate in music research, and accepted the professoriate position at Whitworth to make the biggest impact. He teaches teachers to teach students to love music, he said, so he can cast the broadest net.

“We were really limited by space – if you grow too much you just don’t have room,” Rubli said. “But Chism really has a plan for the growth so we can welcome growth, expansion and the youth. Allowing the choir to grow and expand into the community.”

But to follow his art, or his passion, he directs community chorales, where he gets to watch music bring people together.

“I’ve had tons of experience,” Chism said “I’ve done community ensembles and church choirs and public school teaching for seven years. I’ve been at it for a while.”

Chism has been a church music director in houses of worship averaging around 30 members, but the Chorale Coeur d’Alene will be the largest group he’s overseen, with around 70 performing members and about 100 total members. But he’s not daunted to teach the larger group. It’s essentially the same thing as all the chorale church groups he’s led in the past, and that’s where his passion is.

“I feel so sorry for a world that doesn’t get to do what I get to do,” Chism said.